On Sailing… and Serving Others With Your Gifts & Passions

On Saturday, I surprised Jeremiah with a boat ride for his birthday. We boarded a beautiful wooden catamaran that seated about 30 people. Scott was our captain. He was super friendly and we knew we were in for a treat on the lake. It was just what we needed after a stressful week.
About 30 minutes into our sail, Scott came by to accept our payment. Jeremiah initiated a conversation with Scott on how he got involved in sailing.

“I got on the computer and Googled ‘how to build a boat,’ ” he said.

“I found all the necessary resources and started building. I never dreamed I’d be taking 35 trips a week and that my business would grow like this…”

Then he said something profound that stuck with both of us:

“I think it’s important to find what you love to do and serve others through it.”

You could tell that Scott had what he wanted in life. He’d been married to his wife of 30+ years, his children were grown and doing well, and he was doing what he absolutely loved. But not only that, he was blessing the lives of a lot of people- every week.

Scott takes a shot of us behind the wheel

During the remainder of the trip, I thought about how God distributes gifts to people and how the purpose of those gifts are to edify and equip the Church. So often it’s easy to get caught up in the what-my-gift-will-do-for-me kind of mentality.

But it’s not about that at all. Certainly, our gifts and passions draw us closer to God, make us come alive, and give us meaning and purpose. But our gifts aren’t supposed to be hoarded and hidden inside our own little box.

We’re supposed to give our gifts away. And if we think anything different, we’re missing the boat.

I don’t know if you’ve found your gift or the one thing you want to spend your life doing. I don’t know if you’re discouraged in that pursuit or if you believe you have something to contribute to this world.

But what I do know is God created you for a purpose and that involves building into the lives of others.

You have something to offer that no one else does and other people need you to draw out your gifts, however that might look and whatever risks that might involve.

When you view your gifts with an outwardly-focused kind of mentality, your life will change drastically. Your perspective will shift off of yourself and onto how God can use you to make a difference in the lives of others.

In middle school, I started journaling. It was how I felt closest to the Lord and it was the easiest way for me to write out my prayers and remember them. It also came natural, just like the assignments did in my Creative Writing classes. After receiving my first publishing contract in college (7 or so journals later), I realized that God was starting to call me out of my comfort zone of personal journaling and into riskier territory of writing for an actual audience.

As the years passed and I started writing for other publications and eventually writing Bible study curriculum for churches across the country, I realized even more that writing was my number 1 passion. But the best thing about it was that I could use my writing to serve and encourage other people and help build God’s kingdom. My focus, including my goals, started to shift. Still today, I’m learning what it means to be outwardly-focused and I’ve found so much joy in the journey.

“Find what you love and serve others.”

I’ll always remember the wisdom Captain Scott imparted to us that evening and I hope it will encourage you too.

*From the Archives*- You Might Also Enjoy Reading…

Daring to Risk a Little More

The Joy of Being on Mission

Five Minutes to Let It Shine

Give Yourself Away

 

 

 

Heartshot Headshots with Katie Bowman

My friend Katie and I recently went on a little excursion here in Dallas to a district called Deep Ellum and a trendy little coffee shop called The Pearl Cup that serves the best chai tea lattes in big porcelain mugs.

The purpose of our outing was to take some headshots for this blog and for Start Marriage Right.

Katie is a very gifted photographer, writer, and do-it-yourself guru. Both of us have seminary degrees, our husbands are both currently in seminary, and we both live in seminary housing. Go figure! We also went to the same college in Virginia and have spoken on/taught abstinence in public schools (Katie still does).

I guess you can say that we’re like peas in a pod when we get together.

It’s always awkward to have pictures taken of yourself (with no one else in them). It can feel vain and weird, but I knew Katie would be the best person for the job. She did an amazing job putting me at ease and captured exactly what I was hoping for. And it helped that she always has a way of making me laugh!

Head on over to her blog, Shades of Grey, to check out her work and give her some comment love.

Whole Food, Whole Faith – Exploring a Plant-based Lifestyle

For a while now, I’ve felt like something was missing when it comes to my overall health and nutrition. If you were to ask me if I was a pretty healthy person, I would say, “Sure!” I try to eat really well and watch my portions.

I get good sleep and I exercise consistently. One day a week I do a strength training class at the gym that whips me every time. And I run 2-3 times a week. And walk regularly.

But lately I’ve been taking a hard look at my diet (thus what I’m feeding my family) and I’ve noticed were I really want to see some change and ultimately feel better. Here’s how I’ll sum it up borrowing from the words of popular food writer & UC Berkeley Professor Michael Pollan:

Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Cancer experts agree that adding green and other vibrant colors to your diet in addition to vegetables, fruits, legumes (dried peas & beans), and grains aids in the fight against cancer and other diseases.

We’ve heard it before. Foods so rich in phytochemicals and other fancy words can do nothing but help my diet. But this knowledge has never made a significant impact on my personal health and food choices until now.

Fruits & Veggies As the Foundation

In other words, I’ve never seen fruits and veggies as the foundation of my health. They have been more like a “side” item.

Going green in one form or another has been a trend for a while. Celebrities and politicians like Alicia Silverstone and Bill Clinton are adopting plant-based lifestyles. And movements like Forks Over Knives, Food Inc., Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and the Meatless Monday Campaign are making a big dent in how people view what they consume.

Recently, to my surprise,  I’ve discovered that several of my friends have adopted plant-based lifestyles as well.

From what I’ve read, a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you have to become a vegetarian, it just means that most of the food on your plate should be from plant sources. But with that, many people do choose to go all-out vegan or vegetarian.

Introducing More Color to My Kitchen

For the last four days, I’ve been off meat completely. I’m not sure if this is something I will do long-term but for now I want to see how my body feels and if I notice any differences over a span of several weeks.

This is huge for me because I love meat. Most of my favorite dishes involve chicken and beef. But for now, I’m going to get my “meat” from the protein that exists in plant sources and through dairy. We thrive on yogurt and milk around here.

Practically for us this week, my fridge and pantry is filled with foods like raw spinach (for eggs or smoothies), orange, red, and green peppers, hummus, tomatoes, celery, carrotts, whole grain bread, kale, organic yogurt, oranges, grapes, apples, satian (a wheat gluten), quinoa flakes, nuts, and more. I’ve decided to budget out organic crackers, fruit snacks and cereal for the kids.

Here’s our meal schedule until Thursday:

Monday- Chickpea Burgers w/ corn and brocolli it turned our really well. Very different than what we are used to but we didn’t go to bed hungry. Not sure if I’ll make it again.

Tuesday- Black bean & Zucchini Tortilla Casserole – delicious! a little weird without meat but the whole family enjoyed it.

Wednesday- Tortellini in Sweet Potato Sauce

Thursday- Vegeterian Greek Meatballs in Tomato Sauce w/ Feta Cheese

I’m on the hunt for good recipes that I’ll reuse and I know there are better ones out there. The main thing I’m remembering as we look into the plant-based lifestyle is that it’s a lifestyle.

If we have a party, are eating out, traveling, or at a friend’s for dinner, there is room to flex a little. I don’t want to be obsessed about it, but aware and conscious of my food choices with moderation and balance.

Whole Faith

So why am I going into detail about all of this health stuff on a blog that is primarily about faith and life? I guess first, I love sharing with you about what I’m learning, especially when I feel like it could encourage you.

Obviously I’m not a health expert or nutritionist- I’m a writer and stay-at-home mom. My husband is an amazing RN so I’ve heard a lot of health-related stories. My sister is a gifted Registered Dietitian and has taught me a lot about health and wellness.

But the truth is that we don’t have to be experts to understand that our health greatly impacts our spiritual life, and vice-versa.

Here’s what I’ve experienced:

  1. When I have more energy, I’m highly productive during the day.
  2. When I get sufficient sleep, I’m quicker to go for decaf coffee than caffeinated.
  3. When I feel good about my body, I often treat others better.
  4. When I’m properly fueled, I have energy to carry a conversation and share my faith with someone.
  5. When I’m renewed in God’s Word and prayer, it changes the attitudes and choices I make.
  6. When I see my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, it changes how I steward my body for God’s glory.
  7. When I pray, anxiety and stress is lifted as I give my burdens to God.
  8. When I exercise, I release endorphins that give me a “high,” making me feel better than I did before while decreasing depression, moodiness, or irritability.
  9. When I serve others as the hands and feet of Christ, it gets the focus off of me and my problems and onto helping people.
  10. When my overall health is well-balanced, I’m inspired to keep at it and persevere in my faith.

Well I’m not exactly sure what my diet will look like months from now, but I do know that I’m going to make better choices. I know that this lifestyle will require sacrifice and hard work, no doubt. I know it’s a road less traveled in our American, fast-food culture. But I’m excited to start this journey and see where it will take me and my family and my faith.

I’d love to hear from you- Did any of the 10 points jump out to you when it comes to your health and faith? What would you add? Do tell!
If you’re interested in more resources regarding the plant-based lifestyle, these have been helpful for me:
5.) Vibrant Life Magazine- faith & health

Article: Letters to My Future Husband

photo credit: StartMarriageRight.com

Before I went off to college, finding a husband was always on my mind. I had shared that desire with a friend who was married and she suggested I start writing journal entries to him during the waiting process. It had helped her a lot.

I was all over her advice because I loved to write and reflect anyway. I had five spiral bound journals I’d written in since middle school. Yellow legal pads were always laying around our house, so I got one out and wrote my first entry on Dec. 16, 2001…

Today I’m contributing over at StartMarriageRight.com. Continue Reading and join the conversation.

Why You Need Others to Speak Truth Into Your Life

Recently, I tried on some black pants to go with my new black glittery TOMS that I got for my birthday. I looked in the mirror and felt pretty good about the pants.

I opened the dressing room door and took a good look in the big mirror. I asked the college-aged girl a few feet in front of me if she would give me her honest opinion about my pants. She stared at them for a while and said:

“I don’t LOVE them. You know, you and me, we kind of have short legs, and I don’t know. I don’t LOVE them.”

I was a little surprised by her response but took in what she was saying.

“Okay, yeah, thanks for being honest. I really appreciate it.”

She nodded her head and went back into her dressing room. My pride was a little crushed but I loved her honesty.

The black pants I had on were skinny jeans and I happened to have several pairs in my closet that I wear regularly. I went back into my dressing room and took a harder look in the mirror. I discovered that the black pants really weren’t flattering on me. And none of the skinny jeans I’d owned fit that t.i.g.h.t.!

The college girl was right after all.

The more I live my life, the more grateful I am to have others who will tell me not just what I want to hear, but who will tell me the truth in love. Even if it stings a little. Okay, a lot.

Because when we know the Truth, it guides us closer to healing.

Let me share a story.

One of my closest friends, Julia, and her husband Jay, were over for dinner at our place one night several years ago. We were laughing and having a good time. But in the course of our time together, at one point, my actions and tone of voice were very disrespectful to my husband Jeremiah.

The evening carried on and before Jay and Julia were about to leave, Julia approached me one on one and said she noticed my behavior and how it made Jeremiah look bad. In a loving, caring way, she helped open my eyes to my sin.

It hurt deeply to hear her words. I felt exposed and it was humbling. But I was able to tell her flat out that I struggled with disrespect and not knowing how to communicate my frustrations with my husband.

Julia encouraged me to talk to Jeremiah and really work on that area in my life. I asked her to hold me accountable. I knew how serious it was to find healing from this sin in my marriage.

Her willingness to speak truth into my life brought me closer to grappling with my sin and fighting it.

Over the years, I often remember that life-changing evening and as a wonderful friend, Julia has consistently held me accountable and I appreciate how open our relationship is. While I’m still imperfect at times, I’ve been able to see my sin clearer and make the necessary changes to build up our marriage, instead of tearing it down.

Indeed, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is our ultimate healer, but by His grace He chooses to use other people in our life to help fashion us more into his image.

Are you speaking the truth to those you love? Are you allowing them to tell you the truth? Maybe you have a story of your own…

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. – Prov. 27:17


The Stuff That Satisfies (Hint: It’s Not Stuff)

photo: G&B's Art Gallery

Downtown Dallas sits proudly right outside our window. Every morning, I look forward to opening the blinds and watching the sun rise over the skyscrapers. We’re among a few of our friends who have a stunning view in seminary housing. We feel pretty blessed to live in an apartment that people typically pay big bucks for.

But don’t be fooled. On a tight seminary budget we aren’t rolling in the dough by any means!

And that’s just where my heart often longs for more especially since the discipline of being frugal can get old. While all my needs are being met in addition to my wants and then some, the sinful part of me believes that stuff will satisfy my deepest longings. And I’m not just talking about the “big” stuff. The silly, little stuff too.

God desires to bless me and to give me good things but it’s the coveting, obsession, mismanaging, greed, lack of contentment and making comparisons that are like poison to the soul.

True life and contentment can only be found in a person and that person is Jesus. Life cannot be found in material possessions or gadgets or other goodies. I’ve looked and I just can’t seem to find it. Life just doesn’t exist there.

I don’t need to worry about the stuff that will fill up my life on a daily basis either. As always, Jesus has a way of gently shooting straight to the core:

Consider the ravens; they do not sow or reap, yet they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! – Luke 12:24

Will God take care of me and even give me my deepest desires? Certainly. They might look different than what I thought but he promises to provide for me. And a raven… A bird that isn’t attractive or special… God has his eye on and cares for.

God is much more concerned about the details of my life than a raven.

He knows about the stuff I long, but he wants me to learn to lean on Him before I try to put my trust in things that have the potential to greatly disappoint and that aren’t eternal.

Even though our budget might not look like anyone else’s right now, the truth is that I have more than I could ever imagine materially and spiritually. Above all, I have Jesus, my ultimate joy and satisfaction in life. And He is enough.

Do you ever long for more stuff? Is there anything stealing your satisfaction in Christ?

When You Pray for & Love Your City

photo credit: athensboy.wordpress.com

This past Sunday, our church partnered with 15 local churches to pray for 18,000 homes in the city of Rowlett, TX (just outside Dallas).

Our church gathered together for worship, a message of encouragement, instructions, and then our leaders sent us off. I teamed up with an incredible family in our church, Judy and Ali Master, along with their four children.

A Prayer of Blessing

I didn’t quite know what to expect with this kind of event, but I knew that there is power in prayer and you never know the hardship, chaos, or disfunction going on inside someone’s house. All of us have experienced pain in some way or another. We were being sent out to pray this prayer of blessing over each home:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26

During the first few homes we prayed for, we noticed a middle schooler riding his bike on the road. He rode up on the sidewalk and we introduced ourselves. His name was Ryan and he attended the school our church met in right down the road.

I told him what we were doing and I asked him if he wanted to join us. I figured he’d think I was wacky for asking such a question, but I wanted him to know we noticed and cared about him.

He responded with a sincere “No” and rode off. I was a little disappointed but I couldn’t blame him! We were complete strangers.

An Unexpected Breakthrough

We continued on our walk, discreetly praying for each home. Ryan was still riding his bike just ahead of us. I told Judy and her daughter, Molly, about how interesting it was that he was still “with us” an hour into it all. They’d been thinking the same exact thing.

Towards the end of our designated houses, Judy engaged in more conversation with him and invited him to our church. He opened up more and said his parents were divorced and that he might be at his dad’s on the weekend. We told him whatever he could do was fine.

The Master’s and I headed to our cars to load up, and Ryan rode over near my van. He asked me some questions about my kids and told me more about the dynamics of his family. I was amazed at how nice he was and how natural it was to talk to him. He was totally different than when we’d first met.

Then he asked what time our church started because he forgot. I told him when to come and he said he was going to try and make it this coming Sunday.

Living, Learning, Loving Redemptively

I was so excited about Ryan’s willingness to join us. I believe he saw Christ living through us and that light was attractive. It was encouraging that our prayers to make a difference in someone’s life were being answered.

Being on mission with the Master’s created a special bond between us as we worked together to reach out to Ryan and love on him. At the end of the day, whether he comes to our church this Sunday or not, I just hope that he knows he’s loved and prayed for and that ultimately he will come to know Christ.

Acts 29 church planter, Jonathan Dodson, says:

The power of redemption, in turn, changes the heart of man who can change his culture and his city. Liberated from the power and penalty of sin, the redeemed are released into true humanity. In turn, we devote ourselves to living, learning, and loving redemptively.  (See Article: “Hate the City, Love the City”)

When redemption is truly understood and lived out in our daily life, it becomes impossible not to pray for and love the people inhabiting our cities. How convicting and challenging this is, but what a joy to be apart of the redemption God desires for each and every person we come in contact with.

How are you doing at loving your city?

On Loving People for Who They Are: Meet Danny

Danny bags groceries at the Kroger we shop at every week. He’s in his 30s and has a disability where he speaks and walks slowly. A few months ago I decided that I wanted to help show my two-year-old John that people like Danny are to be acknowledged and treated just like anyone else, no matter if they look or act differently.

So, I would whisper into John’s little ear: “Can you say hi to Danny, John?”

“Hi, Danny!” he would say and Danny would smile.

One day we had two carts of groceries to haul out and John told me he wanted Danny to push the cart he was sitting in. Not Momma. It was precious. Danny took the cart and John was absolutely delighted.

Yesterday, as soon as we got to Kroger, John asked where Danny was and I thought to myself:

John gets it

I realize the innocence in John’s heart. He sees the world in a lens that my tainted eyes do not see. He is a child and doesn’t fully understand the differences in people, but I believe he comprehends more than I think. He has a unique sensitivity towards Danny that is convicting.

The truth is that “Danny’s” are everywhere. God has been really impressing upon my heart to be intentional about loving people who are different than me and who I wouldn’t naturally start up a conversation with or even hang out with. He is teaching me about compassion and mercy.

People, no matter their race, differences, or disabilities deserve to be loved because they are created in the image of God. And as a Christian, I’ve been called to love all people, especially the unlovable.

I have to admit that I struggle at times with elevating myself or judging someone based on external appearances. And I know that it’s not only shallow, but it’s sinful. I’ve been moved by the verse:

How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. – Luke 6:42

This verse has not only challenged me when it comes to watching my judgmental thoughts towards people, but it has shown me that I have my own set of issues, habits, quirks, inconsistencies, disabilities and more. They might not be so obvious, but they still exist. Most of all, I’m learning about my own brokenness and God’s perfection.

Through a process, and I mean process, God is helping me to get the big, fat plank out of my own eye. Did I mention it’s big? He’s continuing to use people like Danny to teach me some big truths about the meaning of love.

The innocence and purity I get to see in John’s heart is what I need desperately and I’m willing to let God really mess with me so that I’ll truly love people for who they are. Plain and simple.

Has anyone stumbled upon your path that you need to love unconditionally? Do you have a “Danny” story?

* Name changed to Danny to protect privacy

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Blogger

In September 2007, I attended the North Texas Christian Writer’s Conference. At that time, I was a year out of getting my Master’s, I’d interned for two well-known Christian publishing companies, I’d been published in several magazines and contributed to two teen books.

But I was itching for more. I just couldn’t put my fingers on what it was.

That’s when I sat under the writing workshops of authors James Watkins and Christopher Maselli. I took to heart their advice:

Every writer needs to have a blog.

Christopher had a workshop dedicated solely to helping you start a blog. I wrote down all his notes, came home, and started what you’re reading today on WordPress.com.

I didn’t know much about blogging, I just wanted a space to write and the opportunity to hear from readers. The same is true today.

Sure, I research how to write good blog posts. I subscribe to CopyBlogger.com. I frequent blogs of writers and authors I enjoy and respect. But at the end of the day, I simply write from my heart. I figure a day will come when blogging is no longer cool, and that’s okay because I’ll still keep writing.

One of my newest readers, Meg Pieroway, asked if I had any tips or advice about blogging as she’s launching a Christian blog soon. I smiled when I read her comment because I was already thinking about writing something about my journey in blogging. So thank you, Meg, for the nudge.

I hope these tips will help many of you as you pursue your passion to write.

10 Tips to Becoming a Better Blogger

1.) Be Yourself. You’ve heard it over and over, but it’s true. Learn and grow from bloggers you love, but remember their voice is not yours. Take advantage of the fact that there is no one like you in this world and that’s how God wanted it to be. There is someone who needs to hear your voice.

2.) Write When You Don’t Feel Like It. Emotions come and go, but the truth is that you love to write. Take the first step and start typing. I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love again and get hooked into some kind of post. Either way, you’ll be glad you chose discipline and commitment over your feelings.

3.) Never Publish Your First Draft. Writing is an art and takes time to craft. Write your post, sit on it for a few hours or a day, and come back to it to edit, shorten, proof-read, simplify, and tighten. You’ll be amazed at what you want to change and reword to make the post better.

4.) Don’t Get Hung Up On Blog Traffic. It’s exciting when you get 500 hits a day on your blog and you check the stats throughout the day to watch them soar. But in my experience, blog traffic can be a major distraction and can put you in a good or bad mood.

You’re writing for God, yourself, and your tribe or niche. Stats are important to make sure people are actually reading, but keep first things first.

5.) Reply to Readers’ Comments. Your readers are responding to your posts partly because they want you to know they’re reading. And deep down, they’d love your response. Who wouldn’t? This doesn’t mean you have to respond to every. single. one. but you want them to know you care.

6.) Work Hard at the Craft of Writing. Discipline always requires sacrifice. The writing life isn’t an easy road and success doesn’t happen over night. Some bloggers are successful right off the bat and their blog turns into a book. But for the majority of bloggers it takes years to hone your skill, know your audience, and find your voice. Writing on a regular basis will pay off.

7.) Share Your Blog Posts on Facebook, Twitter, & Other Social Networking Sites. Who needs one more post in their news feed, right? Well your post might be the one that someone desperately needs to read on that particular day. Social networking sites are a perfect way to get the word out about your blog and to connect with readers. And they’re great for finding other writers with your interests.

8.) Be Discerning With Self-Promotion. In the publishing business, having a platform and being willing to market yourself is crucial. That’s just the rules of the game. As writers who follow Christ, there is a fine line when it comes to the sins of pride, vanity, and boasting.

I haven’t figured all of it out yet, but be cautious and discerning in the ways you let others know about your work. Check your motives and your heart. Is your purpose to draw attention to yourself, or to edify and equip?

9.) Mark Your Writing with Authenticity. Our generation craves it and the Lord knows the church needs more of it. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable or share your weaknesses and struggles. People will relate to you all the more if they know you’re human.

When I read posts, I often ask: Where is the conflict or struggle? If one doesn’t exist, I question it. Conflict is a natural part of life.

10.) Don’t Ever Give Up. I wanted to quit blogging at one point. It was difficult and I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted, in the timing I desired. I eventually discovered that it was all about me and God showed me I needed to get out of the way. He had bigger plans for my writing. And he used many people to encourage me in that, especially the words of a friend and reader, Scott McCreedy.

There were also times I wrote to please people and that did nothing but hinder me. So I renewed myself in my passion to write and didn’t worry about those latter things. Now, I see blogging as another tool for God to use my writing however he wants and I’m just happy to get to do what I love.

If writing is a gift God has given you, push back whatever lies are roaming around in your head and keep at it! This world needs your voice.

Now it’s your turn to chime in. What have I left out? Blogger or non-blogger, what do you think it takes to be a great blogger? 

Above photo credit: lsgeekster.blogspot.com

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